“Red,” the beautifully spun and splendidly acted tale of a young model’s decisive encounter with a retired judge, is another deft, deeply affecting variation on Krzysztof Kieslowski’s recurring theme that people are interconnected in ways they can barely fathom. If it’s true — as the helmer has announced — that this opus will be his last foray into film directing, Kieslowski retires at a formal and philosophical peak.
Arthouse audiences will feel a proprietary thrill as characters from “Blue” and “White”– the first two films in the director’s “Three Colors” trilogy — keep a date with destiny in “Red,” although the prior installments are by no means a prerequisite for enjoying this free-standing episode.
Taking its inspiration from the last of the three watchwords of the French Republic (liberty, equality, fraternity), “Red” begins with Swiss law student and judge-to-be Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) dialing a telephone number. The camera then plunges into the innards of the phone network, zipping through wires and cables, dipping under Lake Geneva, only to reach a busy signal.
Meanwhile, Auguste lives across the street from fashion model Valentine (Irene Jacob), who communicates via telephone, sometimes awkwardly, with her boyfriend in England.
Auguste is in love with Karin (Frederique Feder), who runs a “personalized weather service,” dispensing tailor-made forecasts by telephone. Auguste and Valentine pass each other on countless occasions but have never noticed each other.
Valentine injures a dog with her car and takes the wounded animal to the address on its collar, where she meets Jean-Louis Trintignant, a former judge who listens in on his neighbors’ telephone conversations. Jacob is appalled by Trintignant’s intimate trespassing but is drawn to him.
The sun itself seems to know that these two were meant to meet: It obligingly casts a ray of enlightenment into Trintignant’s study. The innocent, faintly troubled young woman and the resigned older man explore the implications of extending a fraternal hand. Kieslowski demonstrates that life can’t really be controlled — nor can its consequences. Fate will bring the protagonists together with gale force.
Location lensing in Geneva is aces. The title color is ever present, from a glass of wine to a bowling ball, from a transit ticket to an automobile. The judge even lives in an area called Carouge. Jacob — who won best actress honors at Cannes in 1991 for her stunning turn in the director’s “Double Life of Veronique”– is photogenic under any circumstances, but she has never been so radiant as in her work with Kieslowski.
Trintignant is fascinating as a man who, in mulling over the verdicts of a lifetime and comparing the rigor of a courtroom with the messy and intricate conversations on which he eavesdrops, recalibrates his moral compass thanks to Jacob.
Zbigniew Preisner’s score, augmented by soaring vocals, is a fine ally throughout. Kieslowski is aided and abetted by outstanding tech support.
Narrative has a purposeful randomness — the viewer is assured via countless subtle details that the story is ineluctably headed toward something faintly ominous yet cathartic. Denouement and final image are a satisfying grace note both to this film and the entire trilogy.